Cape Town – The World Health Organization (WHO) announced a comprehensive plan to make available 120 million Covid-19 rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) to low- to middle-income countries.
The tests will provide results in 15 to 30 minutes, with 20 countries within Africa set to benefit.
WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus said since the start of the pandemic WHO has emphasised the importance of testing as part of a comprehensive strategy to control transmissions.
“These tests provide reliable results in minutes rather than hours or days at a lower price, with less sophisticated equipment. This will enable the expansion of testing, particularly in hard-to-reach areas that do not have lab facilities or enough trained health workers to carry out the PCR tests,” Ghebreyesus said.
Volume guarantee agreements have been signed with two manufacturers and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to ensure that the 120 million RDTs are available over six months.
The tests are priced at a maximum of $5 (R86), which is substantially cheaper than PCR tests and the price is expected to decrease, Ghebreyesus said.
Seed-funding has already been obtained and WHO now needs the full amount to purchase the tests.
Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics’ Catharina Boehme said the pandemic had exposed weakness in testing and in health systems across the world, and said it was vital to increase testing with urgency.
The Global Fund has committed to an initial $50 million to enable countries to procure at least 10 million tests. The first order is expected to be placed this week.
Global Fund chief executive Peter Sands said currently high-income countries are conducting 292 tests per day per 100 000 people. For upper middle-income countries it’s 77, lower middle-income countries it’s 61, and for low-income countries, it’s 14.
“If low- and middle-income countries were testing at the rate high-income countries are testing right now, 120 million tests would be enough for less than two weeks.”
Unitaid and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be rolling out these tests in as many as 20 countries in Africa, starting next month.
Africa CDC director John Nkengasong said: “This is what we have been calling for as Africa to support efforts to scale-up testing. We’ve always recognised that the pathway towards enabling us to achieve our testing goal is inevitably through tests that are affordable, easier to use, scalable and reliable.”
The continent has so far conducted less than 15 million tests with 1465023 confirmed cases and as many as 1210548 recoveries reported to Africa CDC. The death toll is 35750.